NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Bristol Settled In: McClure Content On And Off The Track DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 17, 2009) -- Eric McClure's (No. 24 Hefty Ford) climb in the NASCAR Nationwide Series has hardly been a steady one....
NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Bristol
Settled In: McClure Content On And Off The Track
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 17, 2009) -- Eric McClure's (No. 24 Hefty Ford) climb in the NASCAR Nationwide Series has hardly been a steady one. In each of his three full seasons in the series, the Chilhowie, Va., native who now resides in Abingdon, 30 minutes from Bristol Motor Speedway, has been with a different team. In addition to racing, the graduate of Emory and Henry University used his Communications degree to build and present a successful sponsor proposal.
In 2006, qualifying was angst-ridden. His team was outside the top 30 in owner points; he missed six races and was replaced for the three road course events.
Last year brought improvement. He made every race he entered, pushed his team into the top 30 in the owner standings for the majority of the year and was 21st in the driver standings. He also posted his career-best finish, 15th, at Talladega Superspeedway. But he again watched the three road course races.
This year, he's with Rensi-Hamilton Racing, a move that has helped solidify his career and comfort zone as well as bring stability to one of the series' flagship organizations that was struggling financially prior to the start of the year.
Series veteran Bobby Hamilton Jr. approached McClure late last year about joining the team, which had planned to be a two-car outfit in 2009. But Hamilton was unable to secure sponsorship so McClure has become the face of the organization. When Hamilton is at the track, he works diligently to assist McClure.
The result: McClure has been in the top 30 in owner points all year. His goal of residing in the top 20 in driver points is coming to fruition -- he's currently 19th. His three top-20 finishes this year are a career-best. He ran his first road-course race at Watkins Glen and is preparing for Montreal in two weeks.
"I'm finally in a situation that allows me to progress as a driver," he said. "I've got a good, experienced team that can help me and they stand behind me 100 percent. They knew my past coming in and have worked with me and we've seen progress. I feel I'm where I should have been in my first season."
Off the track, the doting father of two daughters -- Maybreigh and Maryleigh (who has her first birthday party Saturday) is expecting a third child next spring. McClure, 30, found out wife Miranda was expecting again three weeks ago, just prior to driver introductions at Iowa Speedway.
"(My career is) still a battle," he said. "It doesn't come easy for me all the time. I've learned a lot about myself and try my best. That has made this year more enjoyable."
Keselowski Relishes Role Of "Lurker"
One of Brad Keselowski's (No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) favorite words is "lurking." That's how he described his dash for the win at his home track, Michigan International Speedway, last Saturday "lurking" behind Brian Vickers, the 2003 series champion, and current standings leader Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Toyota) during the final lap of the race.
Now, Keselowski is lurking again, in the minds of his competitors as the defending race winner of the much-anticipated Bristol night race as well as in the thoughts of Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save-A-Lot Ford).
Keselowski bettered 10 double-duty drivers last year and moved into second place in the standings with the win, three points ahead of Edwards. He would hold that spot for one more week before Edwards made his late-season charge toward eventual series champion Clint Bowyer (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet). Keselowski finished third.
This time around, it's Edwards who's backpedaling and Keselowski who's churning. Edwards' Lap 4 accident at Michigan -- only the ninth DNF of his 164-race career -- has not only put any challenge he may mount against Busch in peril, but he's got to be concerned with Keselowski overtaking him as well.
The highest-standing series-only regular, Keselowski (third) is 50 points behind Edwards. His third win marked the most in one season for a series-only regular since 2006, when Martin Truex Jr. won six en route to his second consecutive series championship.
Hard To Argue: Bristol Is Harvick's House
The way Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Rheem Tankless Chevrolet) sees it, his success at Bristol is pretty simple.
"I grew up on a half-mile, high-banked racetrack," he said. "I know Bristol is a lot more banked but it's kind of the same mindset for me driving around the track. It's short-track beating and banging and it's a lot of fun. I seem to have a lot of success every time I go so I'm always excited to go back."
Harvick, a two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, won at Bristol in March, taking advantage of a late-race error by Kyle Busch's pit crew. The victory was his fifth there, moving him out of a tie with Morgan Shepherd (No. 89 Lagina Plumbing/Eldora Speedway Chevrolet). The win was even more special since it was in his own Kevin Harvick Inc. equipment, his first in the series in his own ride.
Is a repeat in the offing?
Harvick's been solid lately. He's had top-five finishes in his last two races and said he felt his crew was coming together at the right time following the Michigan race.
Also, factor in his performances this year at tracks one-mile or less in length: four top-five finishes with the lone hiccup of a 30th-place result at Iowa. A broken oil line was the culprit, cutting into what was a top-five run at the time.
This is the same chassis that ran at Iowa and also at Gateway International Raceway where Harvick led a race-high 105 laps before running out of fuel late and finishing 17th.
Last year at this race, KHI driver Cale Gale won his first career pole and went on to finish fourth, also a career best.
Bristol may truly be Harvick's "house." On Thursday, race sponsor Food City will present Harvick with a crystal piece and make a donation to the charity of his choice for his contributions to NASCAR on the track and off.
In conjunction with that celebration, the mayors of Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va., will present Harvick with a proclamation and keys to both cities.
Top-10 Journey Continues For McDowell
It's been somewhat of a bizarre path, but Michael McDowell (No. 26 Fischer Honda Dodge) has managed to work his way back into the top 10 in driver points -- and he may still be a factor in the series Raybestos Rookie of the Year race.
McDowell knew he'd have partial sponsorship for the first 17 races of the season for JTG-Daugherty racing in the No. 47 Toyota. At the end of that string after the July race at Daytona International Speedway, he was 11th in the driver standings -- he'd been in the top 10 four times in that span -- and was third in the rookie rankings.
He was able to hook up with MacDonald Motorsports for the next three races after Daytona in order to keep building on his driver and rookie rankings.
Three races ago, he was on the move again, this time working with Brian Keselowski, who has moved out of the driver's seat of the No. 26 and atop the pit box.
The duo has had success -- the car is in the top 30 in owner points and McDowell has moved back into the top 10 in driver points. As recently as four races ago, he was 106 points out of 10th. He also tied his second-best series finish -- eighth -- at Iowa.
McDowell will be in the No. 26 again this week and also is scheduled to compete in the car in Montreal. Beyond that, keep up with McDowell's Twitter account (Twitter.com/mmcdowell 47).
IN THE LOOP
Will Busch's Dominance Carry Over To Bristol?
Kyle Busch's finishes at Bristol in the NASCAR Nationwide Series might be a little misleading -- at least that's what some of the statistics suggest.
Much has to do with the 42nd-place that resulted in a DNF in last year's March Bristol race, but finishing in the top 10 in six of the last seven race still hasn't given Busch a Driver Rating that ranks in the top five.
Over his last eight Bristol races since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Busch has a Driver Rating of 104.3, an Average Running Position of 12.5, a series-high 202 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 77.7.
Uncharacteristically, Busch's Driver Rating ranks lower than a number of his competitors. Of those expected to compete this week, Ryan Newman (No. 5 Fastenal Chevrolet) is at 123.7, Kevin Harvick (110.0) and reigning series champion Clint Bowyer (108.2) all have better ratings than Busch.
Newman is entered in all four NASCAR events being held at Bristol this week.
But Busch's momentum might blow all previous statistics off the page. Though his streak of 10 consecutive races finishing first or second ended with a third-place finish at Michigan, his statistics since the streak began on June 6 have been stunning.
Over the last 11 races this season, Busch has an average finish of 1.8 -- compared to an average start of 12.2. Additionally, he had an Average Running Position of 4.2, 345 Fastest Laps Run, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 94.9, 797 Laps Led (36.3% of the total laps) and a Driver Rating of 130.5. Only once this entire season has Busch's Driver Rating been under 100.0 -- at his home track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when he scored a 60.3 Driver Rating in a 39th-place finish. That was also the only race he hasn't led a lap this year.
Busch's prime competition might be Bowyer, who hasn't run in the series since the July race at Daytona. He picked a good time to return.
Bowyer is strong at Bristol in the series finishing first, second and third, respectively, in the last three NASCAR Nationwide races there.
Over that span, he racked up phenomenal statistics: a Driver Rating of 132.9, an Average Running Position of 2.9, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-18, 106 Fastest Laps Run, 246 Laps Led, as well as running all 721 laps in the top 15.
NNS Etc: Bristol Edition
In The Garage
The races at Bristol bring drivers and team members home from two different but closely-connected areas: the northeast portion of Tennessee and the northwest corner of Virginia.
Some of those from both states who will be in the NASCAR Nationwide garage on Friday include:
Casey Atwood (Antioch) -- No. 05 driver
Trevor Bayne (Knoxville) -- No. 99 driver
Kevin Moss (Mt. Juliet) -- NNS official
John Reese (Mt. Juliet) -- No. 27 car chief
Bobby Hamilton Jr. (White House) -- No. 24 co-owner
Brad Teague (Johnson City) -- No. 52 driver
Butch Waugh (Smyrna) -- No. 27 rear tire carrier
Jeff White (Nashville) -- No. 27 engineer
Chris Haymaker (Moneta) -- No. 32 mechanic
Charles Hoefle (Danville) -- No. 77 tire specialist
Emily McClure (Abingdon) -- No. 24 PR Rep.
Eric McClure (Abingdon) -- No. 24 driver
Danny O'Quinn Jr. (Coeburn) -- No. 0 driver
H.C. Sellers (Danville) -- No. 77 crew chief
Peyton Sellers (Danville) -- No. 77 driver
Keselowski's Different "Double-Duty"
It won't be the first time this year Brad Keselowski has pulled double-duty, but it will be the first time he's done so in his own NASCAR Camping World Truck Series truck.
Keselowski will attempt to make his first 2009 start on Wednesday at Bristol. He made his debut in his own Brad Keselowski Racing equipment last fall at Phoenix International Race- way where he finished sixth.
Another double-duty driver of note: Scott Wimmer will drive the No. 40 StopRepairBills.com Chevrolet for Key Motorsports on Friday night, then attempt to qualify the No. 4 McClure Motorsports Chevrolet for Saturday night's Sharpie 500.
Wimmer hasn't driven in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race since 2007 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Good Omen For Keller?
After 480 starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Jason Keller (No. 27 Kleenex/Food City Ford), 31 of those at Bristol -- the most in his career and the most for any series driver at the .533-mile track -- one might figure he doesn't need much luck there.
He's got a win, four top fives and 12 top 10s in his races there and has always called the track one of his favorites.
Now, the good vibe may get better.
After participating in a Goodyear tire test at the track July 7, Keller called his daughter, Jade, while on his way home to let her know he would make good on his promise to get her a dog, specifically a Golden Retriever.
After the two picked out their new family member, Keller asked Jade what she would name the dog. "Bristol," she replied.
"It's very fitting that Bristol is one of my favorite tracks and now I get to see Bristol every day at my house," he said.
Toyota Searching For Bristol Win
Despite a comfortable lead in the Manufacturer standings, Toyota is on the outside looking in this week at Bristol where it has yet to win in five series races.
Michael Annett (No. 15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota) is one of four total entries that Germain Racing will field at Bristol. Todd Bodine and Max Papis will drive in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race while Papis also is entered in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
Annett's sponsor is also headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn.
Up Next: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
What surprise does this year's race in Montreal have in store?
The NAPA Auto Parts 200 presented by Dodge on Sunday, Aug. 30 will feature its strongest field in its short three-year history.
ESPN2 will have the pre-race show beginning at 2 p.m. ET with the race broadcast set for 2:30 p.m. ET.
At the 2007 inaugural event, a late-race tangle between Marcos Ambrose and Robby Gordon led to Kevin Harvick's victory. But not before Gordon did burnouts along the frontstretch with Harvick, figuring he was the winner.
Last year, Ron Fellows, a native Canadian, won the history-making race at famed Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The event was the first points-paying event in NASCAR national series competition to be run in the rain.
This will be the first race scheduled for a Sunday for the NASCAR Nationwide Series since April, 2008 when the series ran at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.
In preparation for the race, Jacques Villeneuve, who will drive the No. 32 Toyota for Braun Racing at the track named for his father, will test this week at Carolina Motorsports Park.
The Race: Food City 250
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval)
The Date: Friday, August 21
The Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
The Distance: 250 miles / 133.25 laps
TV: ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: SIRIUS NASCAR Radio / PRN, (local WFHG-AM 980)
2008 Winner: Brad Keselowski
2008 Polesitter: Brendan Gaughan
Event Schedule (all times ET):
Friday -- Practice, 9-11:50 a.m. Qualifying, 4:10 p.m.